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HISTORY

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THE JEWS AND THEIR RELIGION.

BY THE REV. ISAAC LEESER,
PASTOR OF THE HEBREW PORTUGUESE CONGREGATION, PHILADELPHIA.

When we endeavor to trace the origin will also become more and more the rule of the civilization which rules with its be- of life for the sons of man.

There may nignant sway the mightiest nations of be, and in truth are, many retrogressions; modern times, and none more so than the we find indeed that from some unforeseen people inhabiting the United States of causes, such as luxury, devastating wars, America, we shall soon discover that it the irruption of barbarous nations, manmust be ascribed to a great moral influ- kind have appeared, and to this day do ence which had its birth in the gray ages appear, to deteriorate in certain periods ; of antiquity. For, disguise it as you will, but upon the whole every age becomes seek with candor or prejudice, you must wiser than its predecessor through the at length arrive at the conclusion, that the light of experience and by a knowledge of sources whence the modern rules of moral the evils which others had to endure. The government are in the main drawn, is the storms through which civilization has pesame which refreshed the Chaldæan shep- riodically to pass, purify it from the stag. herd when he first felt moved to peril his nant air which entire repose would necesall in the cause of that truth which his sarily create around it ; for it has to share high-reaching intellect had discovered; the fate with every other gift which has been that is to say, the truth of the existence of bestowed upon mankind, of being endanONE Supreme, who created all and sustains gered if it is not constantly watched, and in his mercy all that his power has called guarded against the enemies which have into being.—This source of light we call been wisely placed around our happiness, divine revelation, and it is contained for that we may not fall into inaction and us, who live at this day, in the pages of that effiminacy. priceless book which we call the Bible. The Jews, and their predecessors the

Long indeed, however, had this Bible, Israelites, have been always regarded with this source of truth, to struggle against suspicion, and not rarely with aversion, the furious assaults of pagan superstition; by those who hold opinions different from long even after the establishment of Chris- them ; but if an enquirer were to look tianity was the leaven of ancient usages with the eye of truth into the source of too powerful for the simple truths of the this suspicion and of this aversion, he Word of God; but with all this, triumph would be disappointed, for the honor of is gradually perching upon the banners of mankind, to find that both are without divinely illuminated reason ; and with the sufficient ground to warrant their being certain, though slow, progress of mankind indulged in by any person who can lay in the path of science and enlightenment, the least claim to intelligence. One would it is not to be doubted that pure religion suppose that the Judæophobia must be ow. ing to some monstrous doctrines which , and thus he brought himself to adore the the Jewish religion contains, which would | Creator; since there is every where aprender its professors dangerous to the state parent the same principle as the foundation as unsafe citizens or rebellious subjects, and origin of all that exists. Full of this by teaching them to imbrue their hands sublime thought he left his native land, his in blood, or to plunder the unwary of their father's roof, and wandered to the smiling possessions. Perhaps calumny has as country of the South, where the most horserted these things; perhaps ignorance rible superstition had established itself in may have imagined that this could be so. the shape of human sacrifices to the deBut how stands the case ?

vouring Moloch. It was here he proIn the days when the wealth of many claimed the “ God who is the living God nations was not estimated by the gold and and everlasting King,” and exhibited in silver in their houses, and by the ships his conduct that neighborly love, that rewhich bore their products upon the face gard for justice and righteousness, which of the ocean, but by the multitude of their compelled even the followers of a senseless herds and flocks and of “the ships of the system, is system it may be called, to look desert” the patient and burdensome camels, upon him who had come among them a and the toilsome asses, and the number of stranger, who had made publicly known their household : there arose a man in his his attachment to a worship which they beginning as simple as his countrymen, as knew not, as a prince of God in the unostentatious as any shepherd of them midst of them." What now were the all. He was called Abraham; and lived principles of Abraham ? Simply these : in that fruitful country once known as first, the belief in the existence of one God, Chaldæa. Around him every one seemed who made heaven and earth ; secondly, to have forgotten the existence of ONE obedience to the dictates of this God; Creator ; for gross idolatry, or the worship thirdly, accountability to this God for all as gods of things which have no power to deeds by intelligent creatures; fourthly, save, was the prevailing vice of mankind. charity and neighborly love; and fifthly, It is well to inquire, whether notions of the exercise of evenhanded justice. We right and wrong based upon such pre- will not insist that there are no other prinmises can be of real utility to man? ciples involved in the doctrines of Abrawhether a belief in gods full of human ham; but we give these points merely to vices, according to the ideas even of their convey a general idea of what he did in worshippers, can inspire the virtues which the fulfilment of his mission. Let us now are the basis of true civilization? The examine briefly the effect such a system candid reasoner will answer in the nega- must have, if generally adopted and genetive; for debasing conceptions of worship rally carried out in practice. Without will naturally debase the understanding, the belief in a superior Power there canno and one is but too apt to excuse in himself be imagined a being great enough to exerwhat he discovers or fancies to exist in the cise any control over the actions of man; being to whom he looks up with respect the Being to be adored must be eternal, and adoration. This being premised, it universal, and uniform.

Now precisely will be readily conceded that at the ap- such a God Abraham proclaimed.

The pearance of Abraham the pervading popu- God of the scriptures is from the beginlar opinions were unfriendly to the ad- ning; He made all that exists; He is of vancement of civilization ; and that there. unending endurance, surviving all that fore his promulgating contrary views, can ever appear in the world ; He is in granting that he did so, was no evidence every imaginable part of the creation-no of his being an enemy to the general wel space can limit Him, no obstacles can bar fare. Let us then see, what did Abraham out his presence; and finally, He is uni. do? Disgusted with the follies surround-form—there are no disturbing causes ing him on all sides, convinced that the which can diminish his power, weaken works of human hands were not proper his energies, or abridge his wisdom; there objects of worship: he resolved in his heart are no discoverable means to divide Him to look from the creature to the Cause, I into parts, or to add aught 10 his greatness,

felicity, or perfection, for every thing is his, and existing only by his will and sufferance. This God, according to Abraham's doctrines, has given certain instructions to his creatures, which, since He is the Source of wisdom, must be necessarily wise, useful and immutable in their tendencies and nature, Farther, the Creator expects that those who have a knowledge of his enactments will, under pain of accountability, and with a certainty of recompense, endeavor to obey strictly what they are certified to be the will of their God. Then again these enactments, as far as mankind are concerned, demand that every man shall love his neighbor, and dispense to all, whom he can reach, those acts of kindness which he himself would desire to receive in the hour of his need. But such a system would be incomplete without the superaddition of that principle with which the Creator governs the world, and this principle we call "Justice;" this therefore too was engrafted upon Abraham's creed, and he is praised for the certainty that he would command his house after him to exercise this principle in their intercourse with others.living; and prayers ascend to Him from Ethiopia's sons and from the children of the Andes, no less than from the fair Circassian race; and the mighty Name is indeed glorious among the Gentiles.

it contradicted every thing which was assumed as true by so many interested persons, and offered to no one individual any prominence among those who submitted to its rule. Nevertheless it is not to be doubted, that the entire system of modern civilization is based upon the early dawning thereof in the person of Abraham, which we have sketched as above. Although the constitutions of the various countries, where an enlightened liberty prevails, do not in all cases recite a be lief in the existence of one God and a subjection to his laws: they in the main acknowledge these ideas in legislation and jurisprudence no less than in domestic life. In short, the Abrahamic discoveries, so to term them, in the ethical sciences, have become the standard of public liberty, the safeguard of justice, and the prop of private life, wherever science has succeeded in dispelling the reign of ignorance, and where an enlightened worship has chased away the dark clouds of superstition. Under many appellations the God of Abraham is invoked; climes the farthest asunder send forth praises to the Ever

That Abraham was viewed with prejudice by those who profited by the superstition of the times, is but too probable; that the priests who kept the people in ignorance with regard to the true nature of the Deity should hate a man who cast, so to say, their idols to the ground, by informing every one who came to him of the pure ideas he had of the Creator, is as certain as that the doers of evil hate those whose conduct is a perpetual rebuke to their iniquity; that the tyrants who governed by debasing the mind of their subjects, who caused themselves to be looked upon as superior to the mass of mankind, did not relish the presence of the philosopher whose system rendered all men equal in obedience, in hope, as creatures of the same Father, admits of not the smallest doubt, for the general acknowledgment of these views would, if not destroy the power of kings, greatly circumscribe the same, and make men jealous of their rulers. We do not wonder, therefore, that the new civilization, as we will term it, could not advance very rapidly in the then state of the world;

When Moses appeared on earth to accomplish what Abraham had commenced, it was not a new theory which was proclaimed, but a confirmation of the ancient covenant. The idea of belief was not enlarged, because there could be no addition to the simplicity and truth of its first inception; the creed of Abraham was one God, sole, uniform, eternal; and Moses could not add to or diminish from this unchangeable truth. What then was Moses' mission? It was the establishment of a consistent code of laws in consonance with the acknowledged universality of the Almighty power. The Lord, in the code of Moses, became the chief of a civil state, in which the people were citizens and equals under the banner of obedience to the divine will; there was no one equal to the Lord, there was no one above the reach of the laws. Whoever was raised to dignity among his people, held a power delegated from on high with the concur

rence and sufferance of the governed ; bound the recollection of these mighty and when the ruler ceased to shape his deeds to the observance of many ceremocourse by the statutes which had been pre. nials and festive institutions, which by scribed for the government of the whole their constant recurrence should as conpeople, he at once lost the authority which stantly remind the people of the causes, he had abused, at times by direct divine why they were ordained. Let us instance interference, at times by the simple action the Passover. The household of every of the people ; of this the scriptures give believing Israelite is purified from all so many examples that it is needless to leaven ; new utensils, different from those quote them here, where we are confined to in general use, are procured; bread of a a very limited space. But in connexion different nature than that used during the with the civil code based on religion, there other parts of the year is introduced ; and was another object in the legislation of with the first evening of the festivals peMoses; and this was the uniting of the culiar ceremonies are observed, which belief in the unity of the divine Essence from their striking nature will always with outward, tangible rites, which should arrest the attention. Imagine now an inever remind the people to whom they had quisitive child following with eager eye been given of the truth which they had his parents in their various acts of puri. inherited from their fathers. It is obvious fying and arranging the household, in that neither pictures nor the works of the their observance of the ceremonies relating chisel could effect this great end. For in to the feast, and he will naturally ask : the commemorative works of art, to be “What is this service unto you ?" And thus produced, the Deity also, the princi- then, what a noble theme has the intellipal agent in all these transactions, would gent and pious father for dwelling on the have to be represented ; and how could goodness of the Lord, how He in his this be done? Where could we possibly might broke the chain of captive forefind a likeness or an image to figure Him fathers—how He humbled the idols and by? He, who is without bodily confor- their worshippers—how He proved his mation, without outward shape, could He almighty power before the eyes of unbebe shadowed forth by the puerile invention lieving men-how He demonstrated that of genius,-puerile, when compared with he alone is the Creator and Ruler of the his greatness and purity? And besides, universe and how he ordained a law of admit that it were possible ; still how duties and observances, inasmuch as " He would it have comported with divine commanded us to do all these things, that wisdom to have permitted symbolical re- it may be well with us all the days, and presentations of his Being, at a time when to keep us alive, as we see this day." In images were the objects of adoration to all brief, the ceremonies, as Mendelssohn obthe world? Would not the recipients of serves in his Jerusalem, are the constant the law also have soon lapsed into the folly topics of living instruction, which by exci. of venerating the symbols, instead of the ting the attention of the inquirer, afford a Deity which they personified ? Wisely, constant theme and an ever-recurring oc. therefore, did the law proscribe graven casion to expatiate upon the noble truths images or any representation, “because of revealed religion, to prevent them being that we saw no figure whatever on the misunderstood by the fixedness and obday the Lord spoke with us at Horeb scurity of outward symbols, and of being from the midst of the fire.” On the other lost by want of requisite memorials. hand, acts once past fade from the memory In consequence of this union of doctrine of the recipients and actors themsevles; and acts the Israelitish people became how much more is it but too certain that contradistinguished from all other portions succeeding ages will not know of the great of mankind, by a peculiarity which ex. things that were done before their days. posed them at once to the animadversion How beautifully therefore did the Lord and suspicion of the world. They were provide for the remembrance of the great men who believed not in the gods ; they acts which He did for Abraham's sons had no images to represent what they when they went forth from Egypt. He worshipped, and they refused to mimgle

by marriage and social enjoyment with those who believed not in their code. Hence there sprung up a species of repugnance of the heathen towards the Israelites; they accused them of atheism, because they rejected a plurality of gods; they were shocked at what was conceived their impiety, because they honored not images of the divinities of the world; and they charged them with unsociality, because they could not, consistently with their faith, mingle over the wine cup and the festive board with their gentile neighbors. It is needless to argue, at this late day, the folly of these views. The worship of one God is surely no atheism; the absence of images is no impiety; and the ceremonial restrictions upon the Israelites have been long since justly regarded as the main props for the upholding of the monotheistic doctrines of Abraham and Moses; they preserved entire a people to whom the truth had been confided by the Creator himself; and nation after nation has more or less taken up the same belief, and followed as divine the precepts which the code of Israel contains. It is not to be denied that the Jews themselves have not duly honored their divine law; they have often been rebellious; they have frequently thrown off the yoke; they have again and again walked in the ways of the heathen; still, will any one deny that they were the first, and for a long time the only, nation who believed truly in the Creator alone? who possessed and have transmitted to the world at large a code of laws which is the best safeguard of liberty? the only true standard of justice? Look at the decalogue! it is called the moral constitution of the world; and where do you find precepts so just, so simple, so cogent, embraced in so few words? Admit they are divine, (certainly we do not claim to have invented them;) still, who possessed them before all other nations? Do we then boast unjustly, when we aver that our law is the fountain of modern civilization that whatever was good in heathen idons had to be purified by the legislation of Moses! Surely we are correct in this assertion; and sure we are that the enlightened Christian and philosopher will gladly admit the truth of a position which scarcely admits of a doubt.

If heathen communities then looked with disdain and contempt upon the unsociable Israelites and accused them of impiety: a man acquainted with the operations of the human heart, will say that their ignorance of revelation was a natural cause of this aversion for a system which, in every point, contradicted their free notions in belief and conduct; since heathenism allowed any addition to the catalogue of their deities, ad infinitum, and permitted all those acts of licentiousness which disgraced their Olympus. But what can Christians allege for continuing that silly prejudice which had its birth in periods of darkness? Do they believe in the existence of a Being, the holiest, the purest, the best that the imagination can conceive, who is the author of all? So do we. Do they believe in the REVELATION of the Most High? So do we. Do they believe themselves accountable for all acts done by them in contravention to the declared will of God? So do we. Do they hold to the sublime aphorism, "Love God above all, and thy neighbor like thyself?" Só do we. Is there not sufficient agreement in our respective systems for us all to meet on common ground, and prove that we are indeed children of a common Parent? servants of the same God? "But no," say the bigots, "the Jews do not agree with us in all points; they believe not in a mediator, they reject our Messiah, and hold themselves bound by a religion of ceremonial works, long since abrogated, at the coming of Christ; hence we must endeavor to convert them, or condemn them to the pains of an everlasting damnation for their unbelief.” The premises are indeed true: we totally reject the idea of a mediator, either past or to come; we reject him whom the Christians call their Messiah; and we assert that for our part the law is of the same binding force as it was in the beginning of its institution. But what has that to do with the prejudice of the world against us? Are our views so monstrous as to excite the wrath of the world against us? Let us see: we assert that the Diety is one and alone; that hence no mediator, or an emanation from the Creator, is conceivable. But why should this be a cause of prejudice against us, since the evident words of the Bible

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